As fall approaches, this is the perfect time to winterize your home and car, especially considering that polar vortex that hit Chicago in 2016. Trust us — the last thing anyone needs during the coldest time of year is a burst pipe or a car that won’t start. To make sure you’re ready for Jack Frost, here are some useful tips to help you weather a snowstorm of any size.

Before the snowstorm hits

Winterize your home and car

Ideally, you winterized your home and vehicle in the fall, but if you didn’t, now’s a good time to:

  • Remove dead leaves and debris from your rain gutters to keep melted snow from building up, refreezing, and creating ice dams.
  • Insulate the water pipes in unheated areas of your home to help prevent them from freezing and bursting.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors near your furnace and water heater (or change the batteries if they’re already installed).
  • Check your car’s coolant system to ensure it has the proper mix of anti-freeze and water.
    Change your oil (make sure it’s the right weight for your engine to keep it from congealing in cold temperatures).
  • Fill up your gas tank — a full tank will help prevent fuel line freeze-up and will also help keep you from getting stranded if you’re driving when the storm hits.

Stock up on supplies

In a severe storm, it may be several days before you can safely leave your home. Be sure you have on hand:

  • At least a 3-day supply of food and water (one gallon per person per day)
  • At least a 7-day supply of prescription medications
  • Hand-cranked, battery-powered, or solar-powered cell-phone charger, flashlight, and radio
  • Toiletries and hygienic supplies such as toilet paper, diapers, and hand sanitizer
  • Enough warm clothing and blankets for everyone in the house
  • Eco-friendly products to help melt ice and provide traction on slippery walkways
  • Dry wood for your fireplace / wood-burning stove and extra fuel for portable heaters (ask your local fire department if kerosene heaters are allowed in your area)

You should also ensure your car emergency kit is properly stocked for winter.

Know how to stay informed

  • Make a storm communication plan with your family so everyone knows what to do and how to contact each other in case of emergency.
  • Find out how your local community broadcasts storm warnings (radio? sirens?) and listen for them.
  • Tune in to the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, which provides local weather information 24/7.
  • Bring pets inside when severe weather is expected.
  • Know the different terms used to describe weather conditions and how to take action:
    • Winter weather advisory: Weather conditions are expected that may cause major inconvenience and could be hazardous.
    • Winter storm watch: A severe storm may affect your area within the next twelve to thirty-six hours, but the timing and location are not yet known. Listen to the NOAA radio station or your local news station for updates.
    • Winter storm warning: Heavy snow, ice, or sleet will be occurring in your area soon. Stay indoors and keep driving to a minimum.
    • Blizzard warning: A sustained period of deep snowdrifts, high winds, low visibility, and dangerous wind chill is forecast or imminent. Take shelter immediately.

During the snowstorm

The best thing to do is stay inside and keep warm and dry. Some other safety pointers:

  • Conserve fuel by closing off unused rooms of your house.
  • Use kerosene heaters only in well-ventilated areas. Keep all portable heaters away from furniture and drapes.
  • Never use a propane stove or charcoal grill indoors.
  • Turn on water faucets slightly to keep a trickle of water running through the pipes. If your pipes do freeze, open the tap fully, remove insulation from the frozen section, and use a hairdryer or hot water to thaw the pipes.
  • Use caution (and the proper tools) when shoveling snow to prevent overexertion.
  • If the power goes out, the temperature in your home may drop quickly — dress warmly in layers. Avoid using candles (and never leave them unattended).
  • Watch for the warning signs of hypothermia.

If you must go outside:
Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, covered by a water-repellent outer layer, and use mittens instead of gloves. Be sure to wear a hat to prevent body heat loss and cover your mouth with a scarf.

After the snowstorm has passed

If you were away from home when the storm hit and had to take shelter elsewhere, check with the local transportation department to determine your safest route home. Use caution when driving and be careful on snowy walkways.

  • If your home is without power or heat for more than several hours, or you are running out of the necessary supplies to stay warm, consider going to a designated public shelter. To find the closest location, text SHELTER + your ZIP Code to 43362 (4FEMA).
  • Remove snow from your roof with a long-handled rake to prevent a buildup of snow and ice.

And, of course, one of the best ways to prepare for severe weather of any kind is to make sure your homeowners and auto insurance coverage is the best it can be.


Safe and smart | Car safety


about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.